Driving simulator helps patients get back behind the wheel

A new driving simulator at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is helping a range of patients — including those recovering from strokes and spinal cord injuries — relearn the skills they need to drive.

'I want to be … independent. So, yeah it's important that I can drive again'

The driving simulator was purchased by the QEH Foundation. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

A new driving simulator at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is helping a range of patients — including those recovering from strokes and spinal cord injuries — relearn the skills they need to drive. 

Tabatha TeRaa, an occupational therapist that works primarily with stroke patients at the QEH, said the simulator will help patients work on physical and cognitive abilities at the same time. 

"In the past we've been looking more at pieces, like people's cognitive skills or their physical skills and how, you know, an issue with those areas might affect their driving," she said.

"But we've never been able to kind of put it all together and actually do the task-specific practice of actually driving. But the driving simulator will allow us to do that."

'We've never been able to kind of put it all together and actually do the task-specific practice of actually driving,' says Tabatha TeRaa, an occupational therapist at the QEH. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

'I want to be independent'

Patients relearn these skills by sitting in the simulator and watching a screen that mimics the look and feel of driving.

The simulator provides therapists the opportunity to have a first-hand look at how patients handle control of the car, drive at a safe speed, and react to other cars on the road.  

David Skerry was one of the first patients to use the driving simulator. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

David Skerry, a double amputee, was one of the first patients to use the simulator. 

He said learning how to drive was one of his biggest goals. 

"I want to be … independent. So, yeah it's important that I can drive again," he said.

'A major life role'

Heather Gauthier, an occupational therapist at the hospital, said getting back behind the wheel is a common goal many patients set out to achieve.

"It's how they access community events, it's how they get their groceries, it's how they spend time with friends and family," she said.

'I think that there’s a lot of fear that people have when they return to driving after a prolonged period of time,' says Heather Gauthier an occupational therapist at QEH. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"So they do want to be able to access the community. And for most people here on the Island, that's by driving a car."

The QEH Foundation purchased the simulator at a cost of $46,000. 

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With files from Sarah MacMillan